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Ticks. Nature, what even were you thinking?

This week alone, I have pulled at least 10 off my dog, two off the barn cat, one off my honey and had a doctor treat my mom. The walk? The one my son and I went on where we stopped counting at 76 ticks we had to squish? That is stuff of nightmares. Ugh.

Why? Why do ticks exist?

If Rachel Carson were here, I’d call her on the phone and ask, “Explain it to me, Rachel,” I would say. “Talk slow and use small words.” She isn’t available, though. Sadly, she died in 1964, before I was even born, so all I have are her writings.

Carson, who spent an awful lot of her life in Maine, is of course most famous for the seminal work, “Silent Spring,” which she wrote in 1962. This was not her first, nor her last book, but it is unquestionably her most famous. In it she sounds the warning about what was then the customary, casual and catastrophic use of pesticides in our country.

Pesticides began with good intention. At the time, eliminating insects seemed like a no brainer. After all, they are annoying and gross. Don’t come for me, entomologists, I get that you love them, and I respect that, but they give me the heebies and the jeebies and I’m the one writing. More importantly, they carry diseases. Lots of them. Lethal ones.


So I get why the spraying happened.

However, as Carson made so poignantly clear in her writing and research, the pesticides were doing an awful lot of harm.

Removing the insects meant removing a food source. All sorts of other things – birds, rodents, other insects – relied upon the mosquitoes for dinner, and larger animals relied upon those animals, and so on. Taking away that critical link in the food chain had massive ripple effects, wiping out entire populations.

Then, too, the toxins in the pesticides directly killed off the creatures as well. The birds and mammals who came into contact with the poisons died. Often horrible, horrible deaths. Carson herself died from breast cancer, which is widely believed to be directly attributable to her contact with the pesticides in the course of her field research.

So pesticides are problematic, and I hope we have learned our lesson.

However. Ticks. These tiny monsters are responsible in Maine for the widespread occurrences of Lyme, anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Don’t get me started on the more rare, but not unheard of, fatal tick-borne illnesses. And they are so sneaky. They cling and climb and burrow. I’m not sure even Carson herself would have fought for the ticks.


Happily, there are natural alternatives. We have in our landscape several lovely creatures who adore eating them and one of these, my favorite, is the opossum, or possum if you prefer. They answer to either.

Spring is also, not coincidentally, the time of year when we see them out and about in the evening – sometimes with babies! Occasionally, their appearance gives a fright and some folks don’t want them around.

This is my plea, my heartfelt anti-tick pro-possum plea, to think of them as protectors of our health and make them welcome instead. Planting bushes, trees and vines for an opossum to climb into your yard, or get away from predators, is a good way to invite them over, says the Opossum Society Of America. In fact, they have lots of info and tips on their website, so maybe take a gander.

Either way, get friendly with these critters to avoid ticks getting friendly with you. Welcome to my yard, possums.

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